Bobby Mason on the mend
Bobby Mason is in a pretty good mood for a man without a knee.
But, as the local music icon has proven in the 47 years he’s called Aspen home, Mason tends to be a jolly presence no matter the circumstances. Now, at 72, Mason is in the midst of a medical emergency and hoping the Aspen community will help him get back onstage.
A knee infection last month led to the removal of his prosthetic left knee, implanted in 2009. So the singer-songwriter and one-time Starwood frontman is unlikely to walk or perform regularly for the next year, with a total of three major surgeries on the horizon. A crowdfunding campaign organized through GoFundMe online and Alpine Bank is seeking to raise $50,000 for Mason’s medical expenses.
“So many people have been saying, ‘I want to help, what can I do?’ This is what you can do,” he said recently over iced tea on his porch. “I want to get back onstage and play my music. I’m having so much fun.”
Even with medical insurance, he and his wife, Jane, are expecting a six-figure medical bill over the next year.
“Psychologically that could take you right out,” Mason said. “I’ve been there before, like, ‘Well, I can’t work for another year so it’s stupid to even try and get through this.’ … I can’t work and I don’t want to be going down the road of thinking, ‘Well, we’re going to be homeless.’”
Mason has long served as the de facto musical mayor of Aspen, playing in town since 1969, when he came from Hollywood for a two-week stint that hasn’t yet ended. Over the decades, the singer and guitarist has become a local institution — collaborating with Aspen players and gigging everywhere (Jane once made mock tour T-shirts naming 58 Aspen bars Mason has played in his time here).
In the 1970s with his band Starwood, he did national tours and played places like the Cow Palace in California and Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison and collaborated with the likes of John Denver and Dolly Parton. In the mid-1970s, Jimmy Buffett invited Mason to come join his band. But Mason opted to stay based in Aspen, writing his own songs.
A few years ago he summed up his loyalty and love for Aspen in the song “Dirt Rich in Dollar Town,” written with Kim Nuzzo and J.D. Martin.
“I said, ‘Man, I’m broke. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said of writing it. “But then you walk outside, you look around and you go, man, I’m one of the richest people.”
Mason was playing music with friends at his house last month when the knee issue took hold. A hot sensation ran through it, and he started feeling ill, Mason said. After a night’s sleep, he was still sick and went to Aspen Valley Hospital. Shuttling between doctors here and in Denver, the concern was that the infection around the metal knee could spread to his artificial heart valve and pacemaker (Mason had a heart attack in 2010 and open-heart surgery in 2012 — he celebrated his recovery with the memorable “Bobby Mason Alive” concert at the Wheeler Opera House in 2013). Until a planned August surgery puts in a new knee, the area where his tibia and femur meet is filled with a medical cement. After that, he’ll begin rehabilitation in the hopes of walking by next summer.
Ironically, the one show that Mason is hoping he can play is a fundraiser for another good cause: the Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on July 16. Mason has been a fixture at the Deaf Camp Picnic since its original incarnation in the 1970s. He and Jane were married onstage at the charity concert in 2014. This year, he’s on the bill with Mack Bailey and Rich Ganson.
“Mack says, ‘We’ll just put you in a chair and carry you onstage!’” Mason said. “It’ll be the first thing I try.”
If that goes well, he hopes to play another nonprofit show the next day for the Anderson Ranch Arts Center 50th anniversary.
But thus far, Mason said, the discomfort and pain in the knee is too much to even play at home for more than a few minutes. The goal of the crowdfunding campaign and one of the primary things pulling him through this trial, he said, is getting back to writing and playing music.
“What my knee is doing is stopping me against a hard brick wall and saying, ‘OK, find out who you are. What do you want?’ That’s blowing me away,” he said. “At this point, I still have that urge to make another album, to do more concerts, to travel around for concerts. I’m writing songs that I really like and I want to share that. I think I have some songs that can add to people’s lives.”
While he’s laid up, he and Jane are also in the beginning stages of writing a memoir. Mason, who lived a notoriously hard-partying, rock ’n’ roll lifestyle until he sobered up in 1990, has quite a tale to tell.
“Every time he starts telling a story I’m like, ‘Wait! I need to record this,” Jane said.
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The Virtual Aspen Music Festival’s Sunday concerts have been going from strength to strength in a year without audiences in the seats.